In the basement of Founders, for one day last month, you could find El Tablers zipping back and forth from the grill to the coffee pots again. On Feb. 23, 2022, the student cooperative El Table reopened its doors for takeout orders from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the first time in almost two years, after the pandemic shut the College down in Spring 2020.
Founded in 1904, El Table started as a small table by an elevator and grew into an organized student-run co-op café.
The reopening process took lengthy negotiations between the College administration and the town of Wellesley. Once El Table passed the inspection and was deemed fit for opening, they started to open El Table officially.
“It is great to be open to serve the community, and it has really been a long time [since we last opened],” Co-General Manager Jill Foye ’22 said.
Despite the team’s high spirits, Foye described the first few days as “a little rocky.”
“Some of our members have never been in El [Table], or just a few times, [they] had never worked in this setting,” she said.
However, Foye also praised how the new staff adapted quickly and learned El Table’s culture, both as a community and a business.
“There is certainly a learning curve,” Alisha Shahriar ’25, a new El Tabler, said. “We have to learn how to store the ingredients properly and handle allergies and contamination, about different certifications, and of course, how to make different sandwiches like in a shop.”
El Table had to restrict gathering and dine-in options because of health concerns, so it is not yet close enough to the thriving environment it used to be prior to the pandemic, according to its members.
Foye painted a vivid picture of the co-op before 2020.
“It [was] not just a place to stop by, but a place to linger at, listen to the music, and see people coming in and out,” she said. “Professors would also come here during class or sometimes for office hours, and students [could] buy coffee off their tabs.”
El Table has come back strongly with a returning audience of nostalgic upperclassmen and new students ready and willing to partake in the tradition.
Ashley Jang ’22 described El Table as a “special space and community.”
“I came here a lot during my first and second year and I would see my friends here and run into somebody,” Jang said.
“My friend works here, and we all went to study and vibe there,” Shahriar said. “I love how sustainable and supportive to Wellesley siblings [it is] and I know this is an environment I want to be in.”
As administrators are reviewing COVID-related policies, Foye hopes for an eat-in option and more in-person opportunities for El Table.
“We would love to have people inside and eat and be a place for people to spend time and hang out,” echoed Shahriar.
“There is no community like El Table. We want to be an inclusive and welcoming community and foster connection, beyond [what] a restaurant [can do.] We [want] to be a true place where people come together,” Foye said.